Two o’clock diary

I estimate I must have been snoring at 1.55am. I was awake at 2.00am. I’m now sat downstairs in the kitchen looking hopefully at a small mug of camomile tea in the hope that the contents combined with the process of writing will clear my head and ready myself (for the second time tonight) for much-needed sleep.

My mind is buzzing with thoughts, words and pictures, buffeting around like the rough-cut of a second-rate TV drama. They are relentless. This combined with the human brain’s incessant need for certainty means unless action of some kind of is taken, I am doomed to lay next to my snoring partner until the sun comes up.

Outside the wind buffets the trees. Leafless branches sway and bounce. Gusts pass through the gaps in the cat-flap. The kitchen clock regimentally does its thing.

This feeling I have right now is unbearable. It’s also familiar. First, the intense disappointment I’m even wake at this hour. Next, the realisation that world as we are experiencing it right now looks set to continue for what feels like a lifetime. There’s a bland kind of depiction of horror associated with this feeling of doom; a sort of middle-class banal-looking doom. A GP’s waiting room kind of inevitability to it, complete with well-fingered magazines and page-turners that go unread.

Our understanding of the world around is shaped by that which we see on the television. But an additional perspective of the world is now being created by the now commonplace video communication. The idiosyncratic behaviours of our immediate network are brought into our daily lives through video communication. The outside world is forced down an imaginary pipe into our homes. Nobody invited it in. It just arrived with an insistent look on its face as though it was look for a spare hot-desk and somewhere to plug in its laptop. It never told us how long it would be sticking around either. And its still here, strewing good stuff and bad stuff around.

The immediacy of video communication and its on-demand nature makes its a highly intrusive medium. And it leaves unhelpful deposits on our mental cognition that would normally be washed away by the everyday distractions of a commute home. Now, the lack of distractions embed them. They’re not far below the surface. It only takes a partner to ask you to roll over on your back because you’re snoring for the eyes to suddenly open, the thought patterns to start up and the deposits from yesterday to pop up once more.

Amid all of the noise, and the faces of the people I feel I know but don’t all seemingly partying in my head with so much as a mask or any concept of the two metre rule between them, I look on an a frustrating incongruity in the world right now.

We are people who need contact with other human beings in order to function. Even if we don’t speak to them, we need to sense their contact in the same physical space as ours. We can see loved ones in a two dimensional form whenever we like, in the same way we can pull up mostly anything from an archive of on-demand TV whenever the need arises. But it is the physical presence of others that is missing.

This seems odd on the face of it. I live with someone I couldn’t be without. My rock. But it is others I also need to be able to be sense (if not actually touch) in order to reassure me that the world is OK, that reality is around the corner, and importantly that the world will be returning to a kind of normality sometime soon.

But, as my friend Becky has pointed out to me, the odd thing about the fact that we can if we so wish step out into our roads and see others, it is the perception of distance this new lockdown combined with the winter months and the fact that we’re doing the same thing that we thought we’d only have to do once a year ago, that makes our separation from others so painful. It’s also perceived as being in a permanent state too. Worse in the small hours of the morning when the wind is gusting through the cat flap. In the gap that is created, thoughts and feelings give oxygen to the unhelpful deposits electronic communication has left behind.

There is a darkness to this experience. It’s lonely, for one thing. The early hours of the morning are the best time for panic to set in I find. Panic is such a loud insistent thing. Not unruly in its use of language. It doesn’t holler. It is instead pressing. Urgent. Strong. Wilful. It is liable to leave an impression if the pressure isn’t released.

Awareness is the double-edged sword here: a great skill to possess (and one to develop too), but it’s only as good as your ability to channel it in such a way you can observe and describe what’s going on in your head, and calm the party down a bit. Such a process demands the individual takes his or her own responsibility for identifying what’s going on and what needs to be done. With greater awareness comes a greater need to deploy ‘corrective’ behaviour.

I don’t remember anybody telling me this stuff (aside from the basic principles around self-awareness in coaching conversations for example). There seems to be no manual to help us get acquainted with the mind and manage in the way that sustains us as self-determined individuals.

We are instead introduced to the joys of various activities designed to distract the mind (wellbeing and ‘wellness’) in the belief that distraction subdues and extinguishes. It doesn’t. I know this as a middle-aged homosexual when I recall the period of time I was in denial about my identity. Distraction doesn’t change things, it only delays change. Delay increases the pressure on the mind. It is only by observing a situation and confronting it that we’re able to move on from it taking ourselves to a place where we need to be.

Rattle, a trade deal gone wrong, and music’s managed decline

My husband doesn’t understand me.

He puts up with a lot of course. He possesses a good listening ear and, like any good coach’s husband, has mastered the art of listening without judgment. But every now and again when energy is low he’ll helpfully point out one of the major differences between us.

For him, Lockdown 3 isn’t really that much different from arrangements for Christmas, or indeed our day-to-day habits since we returned from Brighton truth be told. For him the announcement of something approximating a complete lockdown had no impact on him.

I on the other hand often overlook how things are the same day to day, and look at the potential implications of an announcement. I predict the future based on my own life script. In coaching parlance this is ‘catastrophisation’.

This is from a writing perspective quite useful, because it means I can take two things that crossed my day to day experience in a week (the touring musicians Brexit trade deal fuck-up and the disappointing news about Sir Simon Rattle’s departure from the LSO) conflate them and build them into a reasonably interesting piece of copy that serves me cathartically and might even drive a little bit of traffic in the process too.

My husband on the other hand, observes a kind of connection between these two things but refuses to move from the now to imagine a future where these events have contributed to a situation where musicians and their work have been irrevocably devalued. We often joke about this in lockdown when I point out to him that I think I’m a thoughtful, sensitive, empathetic kind of soul, and that he’s a cold-hearted bastard.

Brexit ‘deal’ for touring musicians

Never underestimate how much ignorance and ineptitude can bring about a fuck-up.

According to the Independent in a story published on Saturday, it turns out that post-Brexit musicians will, despite reassurances made by the Government throughout 2020, be denied exemption from touring visas and instead be required to complete a dizzying array of paperwork to be able to continue their international work – this from an ‘EU source’ who said that the U.K. was offered a standard exemption package as part of trade deal negotiations but turned it down.

Caroline Dinenage MP responded saying the story was incorrect because the story was based on an anonymous EU source (like the U.K. Government never briefs with anonymous sources). Cue: arched eyebrows. Note: it had taken nearly 24 hours for anyone to rebutt the story.

The rebuttal is rooted in how the failed arrangement came about. The question for me isn’t how this happened, but why did you let this happen?

The answer is down to not thinking about the bigger picture – not thinking outside of the Brexit bubble and thinking about the implications of a decision or non-decision on a section of society.

If you’re invested in what happens to a particular part of the economy then you’ll fight for it. Or you’ll think about the implications of it and find a work-around. That’s where a sense of trust begins – when you know that someone has your back.

There is no trust. The arts doesn’t believe the Government recognises what the arts and culture brings to this country. The Indepedent’s story confirms what I learned a few months ago, that even with a Secretary of State representing the cultural economy, bringing about change depends on the people he’s speaking to being willing to listen. They’re not. Because they either don’t instinctively see its value or they haven’t looked at the relevant line in The Spreadsheet.

Why, for example, commit the money the Government has to the Culture Recovery Fund at the same time as cutting off a valuable source of revenue for the same sector? It’s not joined up. That lack of connection is either deliberate (which would suggest a strategy being followed) or its ineptitude. Often the simpler explanation is the right one.

It’s hardly a surprise. The person who banged the drum for Brexit back in 2016 hedged his bets, drafting columns for both sides of the argument. And throughout the pandemic has said one thing only to implement and endorse policies that do the complete opposite. Why would anyone trust a man to lead a team that manifests trust, when you yourself can’t be trusted? Johnson is a failed leader (assuming you thought he was any kind of leader in the first place), so little wonder the people he entrusted to do the job on his behalf can’t be trusted either.

According to The Charlatans Tim Burgess‘ impassioned response in The Independent underlines what’s at stake: in 2019 UK touring musicians and their support teams brought £2.19bn to the UK economy.

That figure will shrink dramatically when bureaucracy impacts the smaller artistic concerns who along with the big-name brands help shore up our dwindling global reputation.

I know a significant amount of people whose livelihoods are assumed to be able to withstand any change brought about by increased bureaucracy. That’s because, I think, people equate that musicians because of their elite ability, or their high-level of success will be able to absorb administration costs as inconsequential lines in a budget.

The reality for rock, pop and classical musicians is that bureaucracy will stop opportunities coming their way, and the business they run (rock bands, pop groups and orchestras for example are all businesses) will be denied lucrative trade opportunities.

People predicted this would happen. A negotiating team promised it wouldn’t. And now it’s happened. Few in power have music and musicians backs.

Rattle leaving the LSO

Rumours surrounding Simon Rattle’s departure from the LSO emerged a few weeks ago, corroborated by various sources of mine. My post on Twitter about it triggered one or two people to ask me privately what I was talking about and, when I explained to one LSO person, it was suggested that this was all very unlikely. Just rumour, nothing more.

Yesterday, the LSO’s statement confirmed the news broken the night before by the Times’ Richard Morrison. Now today, Morrison has expanded on the reasons for Rattle’s departure – a heady combination of Brexit, the pandemic, and the UK’s ‘indifference’ to classical music as manifest in the halted development of London’s newest concert hall.

The arts doesn’t need Rattle per se, but his departure is a blow, and the timing of the announcement serves to highlight the fragile state of things. Most reasonably well-informed individuals predicted that taking control of our borders would have a negative impact on the arts ability to thrive on the world stage. COVID has compounded that and provided the Government with some bargain bucket blister pack of smoke and mirrors.

Back to the catastrophisation

In some respects my husband is right. These developments do not directly affect me. To think about them in the way that I do illustrates how I still see some drama to be mine. Social media has a habit of doing that. I’m a sucker for glomming-on.

On the other hand, these stories contribute to a growing fear I have that music is in trouble in this country. A crisis is being managed by people who don’t recognise the value that the arts brings to society, and the crucial role it plays in maintaining the health of that society. They understand only those things that generate big money. They overlook anything that appears to need subsidy. Music to them is something which is available on demand, in return for a subscription like say television. The mechanics involved in bringing art to an audience is of no consequence to them. The connection isn’t made between human beings creating art and human beings benefitting from it. So, ensuring that the arts is protected wouldn’t even occur to them. It’s not a priority.

If I’m wrong about that, then why would such a castastrophic error have occured in the Brexit trade deal negotiation? And why would Rattle have gone?

Without a thriving music scene there is even less incentive for future generations to engage with music-making. An economy will die, elected representatives overseeing its systematic decline.

And that does affect me. Something I care about, that I write about. Something I celebrate and advocate. Something I work in amongst is in crisis, because the people who can bring about change consistently and habitually overlook it.

International concerts for U.K. artists has been made more difficult for a significant number of the music-making industry at a stroke. Don’t think that music venues will be the first to reopen when all the vaccines have been given. Concert going and musicals and theatre won’t be like it was before. Programmes will be less daring because they need to be ‘safer’. And that will have a knock on effect for everyone who works in the arts.

I’d be better off being a cold-hearted bastard.

Riccardo Muti’s much-needed assertion at the New Year’s Day concert

Riccardo Muti’s short speech at the end of the New Year’s Day concert at the Musikverein in Vienna (watched by an estimated worldwide audience of 90 million) reasserted the crucial role music has in culture and society’s health, reminding those appear to have forgotten that music isn’t merely entertainment. It’s art.

And art helps us understand ourselves. Art sustains mental wellbeing. To be in a state of good mental health also helps our overall health.

I feel really strongly about the clarification. If we don’t maintain an awareness of those who create the art, or the impact that art has on us as we experience it, then we’re doomed.

Music isn’t the clothes we put on to make ourselves feel or look better. Music and the way we react to it is our very core as individuals. And the key to understanding that core is to appreciate that it shifts depending on what our mental state is at any one given moment in time. And my core is going to be entirely different from another person listening to the same music at the same time.

Muti’s words were undoubtedly made more impactful when combined with the potent imagery of the Musikverein’s empty auditorium and a tightly-packed Vienna Philharmonic on stage.

Here was powerful evidence that it was possible to have orchestras play without social distancing (the players had gone through a rigorous series of COVID tests similar to those on recent 2020 TV productions). Inevitable then that the sight of an empty auditorium at this annual event triggered all sorts of internal bargaining: will that sight look different in a year’s time? Could it?

As Muti spelled out:

“Music is not only a profession but is a mission. That is why we do this work. A mission to make society better, to think about the new generation that in one complete year has been deprived of deep thinking, thinking all the time about health – health is the first most important thing, but also the health of the mind. And music helps. So my message to the governors and presidents and prime ministers everywhere in every part of the world: consider culture always as one of the primary elements to have a better society in the future.”